So make sure when you say you're in it
but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place
sometimes called hell
- Stevie Wonder, As
* * *
My mother is 80 years old. She has high blood pressure and diabetes; her kidneys are failing and she had open heart surgery a while back; She has an abdominal aneurism the size of a party balloon and this past week suffered two TIA's (mini-strokes). She is a calamitous wreck physically. Live long enough and all the wheels start to come off. But beyond the inevitable reduction and failure of physical systems there lies a deeper woe, a disease that traces its roots back to her earliest days. She always described it this way: This is hell. This life is hell. We are here being punished for something we can't remember doing. This is hell. We're not alive. We're dead and living in hell.
Merry Fucking Christmas.
* * *
Live fucked long enough and my mother's description becomes a balm releasing you of any responsibility for the way you have conducted your life. Forces larger than you can imagine were in control from the start and, well, you never really had a chance. It is the complete abnegation of your chance to live. What the fucked assume, what my mother assumes, is that somehow Life owed you something more than the opportunity to live, that Life owed you happiness, or ease, or peace, or success, or money, or contentment.
Sorry, dude. Not how it unfolds.
Life owes you nothing. You owe Life everything.
The world, your world expands and contracts with your willingness to engage it, to give to it, to feed it upon your commitment to a cause larger than your own: acts of love, acts of creation, acts of suffering. (It has been my experience that when I am firing on all cylinders it is all three at once.) And it is these acts, these ways of being that create meaning, add ballast against the tide of decrepitude, and release you from the bonds of heaven or hell or purgatory and you are free of any such categories.
There is comfort in imaging, believing in a heaven. Great comfort. The inequities of living will all be made right. There is comfort in imaging hell. Dante put many an irritant and foe in his icy depths, ordering the afterlife to suit the demands of this life. But in the end it is not Dante, or the Bible or any holy book that knows anything about heaven or hell. It's my mom. She hit it right on the nose.
This life is hell. She made it so, and so it is.
She's got 80 years of proving herself right under her belt.
This is why the last shall be first and the first shall be last - so much more to overcome.
* * *
My mom taught me many things: how to play poker, how to make Irish soda bread, how to pick myself up after I got knocked down, how to be generous. She also schooled me in believing the odds were permanently and purposefully stacked against me, that happiness was a humbug and who was I to believe different. But I do believe different and neither her sadness, nor any other person's influence on my life - for good or not - can shake me from the belief that we are here to live as fully as we can in spite of the trials we encounter.
Setbacks, wounds, tragedies, losses are the lot we are heir to. No one misses it. No one gets a pass and no one gets out of here alive. So the task that is asked of each of us, that is demanded of us is to figure out what we're going to do in the face of those (seemingly) cold facts. And cold they are because it is all at such a remove from our ability to alter. We can't change time. We can't stop aging. We can't avoid our deaths. The question before us is then does that excuse us from avoiding Life? If you're a fucked fucker you know that answer better than most.
Seamus Heaney sings: Human beings suffer/they torture one another/they get hurt and get hard./No poem or play or song/can fully right a wrong/inflicted or endured.
What the fucked presume to be the fates arrayed against them is just some other poor fucks who know no better than they do and so lash out at the inequities and injustice that they themselves breed.
We're pigs for punishment. We hurt ourselves and others because we get hurt and get hard and inure ourselves to our prophecies of woundedness and despair. Yes, this life is hell because it has been made so out of a lack of imagination and daring to make it anything else: hell as the default setting. But great goddamn is this hell so glorious that you'd rather cling to it than venture the risk of being free of it? Since you are the one creating the world in which you live with every choice made or unmade, what the fuck are you doing putting crenelations on hell? If this is hell, why are you protecting it?
* * *
My mom has always gotten up from the mat whenever she's been knocked down. Always. It's fucking heroic. The problem is she's been fighting herself the whole time.
80 years is a long time to knock yourself around. It eventually ends, but is a waste of time and ability.
How long you been at it?
When you gonna stop?
Merry Fucking Christmas.